By Nadir Ali
China’s burgeoning alliance with Russia represents a profound entwining of geopolitical interests as well as a deliberate break with perceived Western hegemony. The intricate dynamics at work reveal a nuanced interplay of historical animosities, power differentials, competition in convergent spheres, profound cultural distinctions, and superficial societal links, complicating the seemingly robust partnership. While avoiding a significant weakening of Russia, the Middle Kingdom strategically ensures Moscow’s resilience in conflicts to safeguard its own geopolitical standing, preventing an inadvertent empowerment of the West and potential political turmoil in Russia, a critical domain for China’s strategic influence.
In the modern landscape, China has taken on unprecedented significance for Russia, with Moscow increasingly reliant on Beijing as a bulwark against Western sanctions. The linchpin of the Sino-Russian partnership is their shared disdain for a US-dominated global order, which challenges not only their international aspirations but also fortifies their domestic authoritarian regimes against external scrutiny. The meteoric rise in bilateral trade, a staggering 40.7 percent increase in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year, demonstrates the growing economic interdependence. China’s investment of $81 billion in Russian fossil fuel imports in 2022 exemplifies the symbiotic energy relationship, capitalizing on the Russian Federation’s declining Western clientele.
In the midst of this geopolitical tango, Central Asia emerges as a contested arena, with Russia asserting its cultural identity and China viewing the region as an ‘other.’ Both nations strategically position Central Asia as critical for security, economic interests, and resource exploitation, resulting in a geopolitical chessboard with regional nuances. Thus, Russia’s dependability as a partner dwindles amid doubts about President Vladimir Putin’s regime’s longevity, while China’s vocal support for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine raises eyebrows in Europe, strengthening trans-Atlantic ties. The European shock and concern over China’s alignment with Russia pose a new challenge for Washington, emphasizing the volatile nature of current international relations.
Whereas, China and Russia, two global powerhouses, have grievances rooted in a desire for respect and resentment of perceived inequitable treatment by Western powers. Their national narratives retell stories of historical humiliation at the hands of an assertive or triumphalist West. The contemporary landscape of US foreign policy is inextricably shaped by the overarching narrative of conflict with China, manifesting in heated debates on how Washington should respond to Beijing, reminiscent of a Sputnik moment. These deliberations, which appear to be predisposed to a confrontational stance, risk leading the United States down a dangerous path of war rather than fostering rational debates to address global crises. It is critical to emphasize that countering China should not overshadow the broader considerations guiding the US’s role on the global stage.
Furthermore, the bilateral dialogue between the Chinese and Russian president’s highlights a growing mutual trust and the emergence of intimate and effective strategic cooperation, as articulated during their October 18 meeting. This diplomatic synergy reflects a concerted effort to reshape global power dynamics and challenge the dominant Western narrative. Faced with its own set of challenges, China benefits from Russia’s policies, which provide a unique opportunity for Beijing to anticipate and strategically position itself amidst evolving global dynamics. The symbiotic relationship between China and Russia becomes clear, as Russia’s ability to withstand economic challenges following the invasion provides valuable lessons for China in navigating its own constraints.
Essentially, a more nuanced understanding beyond the narrow focus of countering China is required due to the complex interplay of these geopolitical forces. It calls for a broader perspective that recognizes the multifaceted dynamics that shape the global stage, as well as a more comprehensive and strategic approach to international relations. At the same time, China uses its relationship with Russia to obtain technological breakthroughs and gain access to deeply discounted energy resources. Their mutual recognition gives them credibility on the international scene, which goes beyond simple economic benefits. Though this alliance appears to have many advantages, it is important to remember that their relationship is primarily based on resistance to Western powers.
Meanwhile, Russia and China demonstrate a pragmatic approach by separating ideology from their relationship, taking a cue from the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War. Both nations show perseverance in maintaining their partnership despite acknowledging that divergent interests will inevitably surface. This tenacity is demonstrated by the historical issues that have been resolved. Internal issues are also handled as part of the partnership. For example, Vladimir Putin benefits domestically from Chinese cooperation in reducing illegal border crossings, as it allays Russian concerns about uncontrolled immigration. A further indication of a commitment to settling conflicts and creating an atmosphere that supports the sale of high-grade weapons is the response to Russian complaints about Chinese reverse engineering of weapons.
However, as the post-Ukrainian invasion of the global scene develops, China’s quest for independence gets harder and harder. The harder stances in the Asia-Pacific area and China’s growing international obligations make this challenge more difficult. Due to the Chinese Communist Party’s propensity for volatility, there is a significant variable in the dynamics of the world, and the West must exercise caution when navigating any potential geopolitical surprises.